Friday, November 13, 2015

Interview with DCASE Director Tonya Gross

Top by 828 Collection and skirt by ZurkGirl

Photo by Law Agyei

The interview below was published in Newcity when Fashion Focus CHICago was about to happen:

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Fashion and Culinary Arts director Tonya Gross talks about Fashion Focus CHICago, striking up its tenth year with a prized partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

What are the main accomplishments of Fashion Focus so far? What do we have to celebrate in these ten years?
This year, Fashion Focus CHICago will feature nine days of shopping events, runway shows and educational opportunities produced almost entirely by the community. We are also thrilled that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) will be sending representatives to participate in a Look Book Review.

What does the partnership with the CFDA entail?
CFDA will not only be holding the Look Book Review, but will also be attending various Fashion Focus CHICago events and runway shows during their stay in Chicago. The hope is to expose CFDA to some of the city’s great fashion businesses.

How do you envision our local fashion scene? What improvements do we need to make so it can thrive? What has already been done in that direction?
We need to continue to promote collaboration within the fashion business through more production support for designers, more opportunities for event producers and encourage that connectivity within the local industry that helps to elevate brand and visibility of Chicago’s fashion industry. We also need to continue to partner with national organizations like CFDA to create that pipeline to other fashion cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Do you see Chicago as potentially a great place for designers to produce their lines? What would make Chicago special?
We live in a culturally rich and diverse city that is still affordable to live in and travel to and from. The inspiration here is endless with public art, gorgeous parks, Lake Michigan, museums and other artists in various disciplines.

If someone wants to be in the local fashion business now, where should they start?
I would suggest that they start with city agencies that offer free workshops for new business owners and artists such as those offered by Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. There are also fashion organizations that offer workshops for free or minimal fees like Fashion Group International, Fashion Brain Academy, V.Mora and AIBI. Most fashion professionals are looking to finance their projects, looking for workspace, looking for production support and quality production. These are common needs across all creative industries.

How about designing your own line? Is there a path you could recommend? How can designers find professionals that will help them make their clothes?
I can’t recommend any one right path to success. Most designers start with concept development first. That’s the fun stuff, right? You get into fashion and design because you are a creator. That’s fine if you are fully funded, but most aren’t. My advice is to do the market research. Find a niche and create a great product that people want or need. They can check out our Chicago Fashion Directory on for a list of great resources.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s Fashion Focus? Who are some of the designers and events to watch?
We are kicking off Fashion Focus CHICago with Youth Fashion Day on October 4 with a collaboration between Latino Fashion Week and (PRO)jectUs, among others. They will be bringing young people ages twelve to nineteen years old together and building excitement around creativity, ideas, product development and empowerment. Furthering the idea of collaboration, we have the NEXT Fashion Chicago on October 7 with a runway and shopping event featuring an emerging design challenge and incorporating Sanford-Brown College students on the runway. Virgin Hotels Chicago is also supporting local designers by hosting a Chicago Fashion Incubator showcase on October 8, and StyleChicago’s runway on October 9 is going to be a great presentation of local makers, as well as their selling event the following day. The shopping events taking place throughout the week are going to be amazing and I’m looking forward to the Northern Grade menswear event at the Chop Shop in Wicker Park and the pop-up shops throughout the week at Block Thirty Seven which will feature rotating designers all week.

How can people find out about the events? Are they mostly open to the public?
The full schedule and ticket information is on our website,

How can designers feature their lines in the next Fashion Focus? What’s your criteria? How can they contact you?
Designers need to reach out to the individual event producers; the city of Chicago assisted with providing locations and marketing. With the exception of the CFDA Look Book, Fashion Focus Chicago doesn’t produce the runway or selling programs; we project-manage the nine-day festival.

Could you tell me more about the inclusion of Latino Fashion Week, Style Bias, African Fashion Week and Haiti Fashion Week in the Fashion Focus calendar? Is that an attempt to connect with students and minorities and expand the industry to all parts of the city?
Our hope is for Fashion Focus CHICago to be inclusive and collaborative, connecting aspiring talent to resources and bringing visibility to fashion businesses seeking consumers.

Chicago's Own "Iris"

I did this a while ago for Newcity, when the "Iris" documentary about the New York fashion legend came out:

"Simple and Streamlined: Sandra Marsh is Chicago's Own 'Iris'

Iris Apfel and Sandra Marsh have a lot of things in common: a joyous marriage with no kids, a lifetime of travel, a career centered around decor and antiques, a huge collection of objects, a certain age, and a keen eye for fashion. But they don’t share the same town, and therefore have their differences as well: while Iris is known for her exuberance and “more is more” aesthetic, Sandra prefers to keep it somewhat simple, echoing the streamlined architecture of the city she grew up in; Chicago might not have as many highrises as New York City, but the overall visual impact of our skyline is second to none. Like Iris, Sandra loves whimsical statement pieces such as the Mickey Mouse watch zealously kept in her safe, but she won’t be piling it up with anything else. When I last saw her, on a chilly spring day, she was sporting a flowy Ralph Lauren silk skirt, a Lanvin fur coat, edgy ankle boots and a bright pair of neon orange sunglasses that evoked the sun itself. Crowning it all in a charming side ponytail was her long silver hair, at a youthful length that’s surprisingly uncommon in her age bracket. Sandra creates a balanced yet unexpected mix of textures, hues and eras, resulting in a look that’s both timeless and contemporary—just like the buildings of her beloved Michigan Avenue."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


"The Freehand Chicago is giving you a sneak peek at the new Cities In Dust Jewelry collection. Be the first to get jeweled up fall! Perrier will be in the building keeping you hydrated, and of course enjoy delicious cocktails from the Broken Shaker. Tunes will be provided by DJ Sasha Hodges. I'll be posted up in the adorable Den at Freehand. This is a great opportunity to check out this chic venue and shop some of my fresh new designs! I hope to see some faces. FB link here for RSVP!"

Freehand is located at 19E Ohio
Time: 6-10pm




Rachel and Claire



Love you, girl!


Vocalist Kiara Lanier, aka Ki, was hanging out at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Prime Time event after guesting with Nomo, one of Chicago musician Elliott Bergman's projects. A new touring addition to Bergman's main group Wild Belle, Lanier also spreads good vibes via her recently launched "cool consciousness" lifestyle blog the Qi Shop ( The site's goal, she says, is to "share knowledge that encourages me and the readers to grow into our greatest selves." There's also room for fashion in Ki's philosophy: she tries to be intentional about the visuals she takes in and gives off. "Visualization influences thought," she says. "My outfits are affirmations too. I want my outfits to read 'Afro-Futurist monk from the south side.'" When it comes to "clothes, relationships, ways of being, thinking," the self-described minimalist advises people "get rid of anything that is taking up dead space in your life and closet. I've come to recognize this is an act of practicing worthiness. Knowing we're worthy of what we desire for our life is so important." Lanier opens for Nomo at Schubas on November 28 and performs with Wild Belle at Metro on January 15.

Kiara was also featured in my Chicago Reader column.


Elise (@elisenishiyama) was sashaying around the MCA during the museum's inaugural Prime Time event, looking like a mermaid dressed for a night on the town. Her look is sexy, edgy, and decidedly cool thanks to her humble tee and badass motorcycle jacket—she let her flowy fishnet skirt take center stage by pairing it with very casual items. Speaking of center stage, the MCA event was really happening, with performances by Wild Belle's Elliott Bergman and electronic-pop artist Dan Deacon, among many others. There was also a really cool minimart featuring sellers such as Sonnenzimmer and The Pitchfork Review, food by Land and Sea Dept., plus art, of course. Elise was photographed in front of a work by Kris Martins entitled "T.Y.F.F.S.H."—what you see is actually a detail of a huge balloon viewers could get inside.

Elise was featured in my Chicago Reader column as well.


Cleaning Up Well
Barista Sarah Sherman ( was attending MCA Prime Time.

Could you describe the concept behind your look?

The concept for my look was to put on all the clothes that were on my floor instead of actually cleaning my room.

Your jacket has an image of Beavis and Butt-head painted on its back. Where and why did you get it?
My friend Yoona gave me this jacket even though it wasn’t even my birthday or anything and it was so awesome! I think she painted it and put the pins and studs on all by herself. I’m proud of her!

How about your mullet? Who inspired your haircut?
I’m trying to look more and more like Joe Dirt everyday.

How does your look relate to your art? What are the similarities?

Everything I make is garbage and I am garbage so it’s all about garbage.

Is fashion important to you?
“Fashion” isn’t important to me but I guess it would be cool if I looked like I materialized in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Sarah was featured in my Newcity column as well.



"Fashion is a really efficient way to be constantly communicating to the world who you are without having to say it in words," Ashley Barton says. "I'm very inspired by radical self-expression. My favorite thing is to see someone wearing with confidence something superoutlandish. It can be a very empowering thing. I think people should dress the way they would dress an online avatar of themselves." The artist and DJ definitely follows her own advice, looking "more and more like a creepy, off-putting, [rainbow]-colored alien." Her style influences range from Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to Yolandi Visser of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord. She also gets a lot of inspiration from cartoons and concepts of futurism: "The pink, blue, and teal gradients are such an Internet aesthetic and make me think of calming virtual reality environments," she says of her outfit. "My bag has a similar feel; translucent plastic always makes me think of cheesy fantasy space-age costumes." Like most of her other garments, she purchased all those items at thrift stores. She's also into DIY: "I turn little toys into necklaces and earrings. I turned a curtain into a glowing cape. . . . I made and sewed a plush set of cartoony lungs onto the front pocket [of a pair of overalls], with yarn veins. I plan to make a homemade collection of organ clothes like that." Barton's bright-pink hair goes with everything in her wardrobe, she says, but soon she'll be changing it to highlighter yellow. "I want my style to express something a little darker and creepier, and I think yellow is the scariest color." Her new neon tresses will be aglow at Blacklight Blackout, the monthly party she hosts at Exit (1315 W. North). See more at or on Instagram follow @Bubble.Tears.

Ashley was also featured in my Chicago Reader column.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Dentist Marylis Ewa whipped up this ethnic-chic look right after seeing her last patient by quickly tying a scarf on her head and throwing on a bejeweled frock that fits her like a glove. The result is both earthy and sophisticated, perfect for the Haiti Fashion Week Preview she was attending during Fashion Focus CHICago, the city-sponsored fashion event taking place this week. According to Marylis, a board member of the DuSable Heritage Association, it makes a lot of sense for Chicago to showcase Haitian creations, since it was founded by Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian explorer. Fahion Focus CHICago also presents partnerships with Latino Fashion Week, African Fashion Week, the Chicago Fashion Incubator, and the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), among others. Runway shows and shopping events are happening throughout the city through Sunday, October 11—check out the calendar at

Marilys was featured in my Chicago Reader column as well.


Kathryn is the definition of goth chic—so incredibly sleek, with a welcome touch of dark. Her sharp asymmetrical bob is perfection on earth, so white and soft with a dash of punk, complementing her Siouxsie Sioux-ish makeup. The proportions of her outfit are very flattering, ladylike and edgy at the same time, a mix perfectly translated by her embroidered leather jacket. Gem, Kathryn's adorable, well-behaved dog, was the final touch in this winning look—he even matches her shoes!

Kathryn was also featured in my Chicago Reader column.


Art historian and curator Grace Deveney (@gracedeer) was attending this year’s EXPO Vernissage, hosted by the MCA.

Could you tell me more about your dress?
I love that this dress has a special, handmade feel, but is also super comfortable and fun. One of the gallerists at EXPO called it a “redacted dress,” because of the missing squares. It is by Nancy Stella Soto, an LA based designer. I got it right here in Chicago at Tusk, a truly magical store!

What kind of look were you going for?
Generally, I go for unique textures and shapes when thinking about what to wear. Honestly though, I didn’t give this overall look very much thought—the purse and shoes are in my daily rotation.

What are some of your do’s and don’ts for art events and exhibit openings?
One of the amazing things about being in the arts is getting to wear whatever you want and rarely, if ever, being judged for it.

As an art historian, how do see the evolution of fashion? What are we walking toward?
I think that despite broader trends toward “fast fashion,” more and more creative people are making really fantastic small-batch clothing and shoes. I’d like to think that we are moving toward having fewer, well-made garments, rather than a closet full of things that quickly fall apart. In terms of an evolution, this would be a return to consumption patterns of previous decades. I don’t study fashion in my work as an art historian, but I make knitwear and weavings in my spare time, so I think about clothing and textiles a lot. That said, this answer might be more of a hope than an objective observation.

Which artists best depict clothing in your opinion?
Such a tough question! My research primarily focuses on photography, and some of my favorite historic depictions of clothing have come from Seydou Keïta, a Bamako-based studio photographer who made epic portraits in the 1950s onward. I also think Louise Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs for Harper’s Bazaar in the forties and fifties are amazing.

Grace was also featured in my Newcity column.
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